Stephen Mwangi Muriithi has gone through many ups and downs. He has tried his hand in various businesses with equal measure of failure and success; he’s been married, divorced and remarried, and bad blood runs between him and his parents. He takes MWAURA MUIGANA through a narration of his unhappy life

The evening of April 16, 2013 still lingers on my mind. I was a desolate soul as I travelled from Embu to my sister’s house in Nairobi. I hoped to be there for a few days while planning my next move. I also needed a shoulder to cry on after falling out with my parents and moving out of home. I thought my sister’s home would provide me with an opportunity to clear my head. However, before I had even settled down my brother-in-law shot the first salvo demanding to know if I participated in devil worshipping. I was astounded.

We got into a heated confrontation with my sister, as she demanded that I accept practicing devil worship and seek God’s forgiveness and salvation. Her husband emphasised that there was no gain in devil worship and riches achieved through this evil would bring me no joy. Shocked by their accusations, I moved out of their house feeling that it was no longer a place of solace. It was further disheartening to learn that my parents were the source of the accusation.

A problematic childhood…

Since childhood I was never my parents’ favourite child. They considered me stubborn, naughty and high-headed and often blamed me for any wrong committed at home. Their beatings were so severe that when I was in class three, I contemplated suicide by drowning myself in a river near our home. From an early age I discovered my talent in singing and writing. My first article was published in 1982 by a local Catholic newspaper in Nyeri when I was in class three.

By the time I was through with primary education I wanted to join a local polytechnic to develop various trades alongside developing my writing and singing skills. However, my parents insisted that I join secondary school and so in 1988, I reluctantly enrolled at Kamuiru High in Kirinyaga County. I continued nurturing my singing talent and brought together a group of peers to form a band called Splashers.

 I organised concerts in the village during school holidays since I was the band leader, something that annoyed my parents who felt I was going wayward. They wished for me to join college after high school and pursue accounting since they considered music a distraction and an avenue to criminal activities. On completing my secondary education, I put my all to the band, which my parents branded a criminal group. They threatened to disown me.

I became desperate especially when we were not achieving our targeted revenue to enable us buy modern music equipment. At around that time, there was dissatisfaction among the band members and we fell out. Discouraged, I started engaging in drugs to drown my sorrows but instead sunk deeper into misery.

Falling out with my parents…

I recall one night having a nightmare where I saw death staring me in the face. Afraid that this would be my predicament due to my reckless lifestyle, I began attending church at the Pentecostal Evangelistic Fellowship of Africa (PEFA) in Embu town. With time, I became a staunch follower and in 1994 became a born-again-believer.

Incensed that I had renounced the Catholic faith that our family adhered to, my parents were determined to get me back to the Catholic Church but I refused. I was happy in my new church where I received counseling and eventually got out of drugs. I was in the praise and worship team and this helped nurture my singing talent and produce my first music CD.

I got into a relationship with a girl in the praise and worship team and walked her down the aisle on December 13, 1997. My relationship with my parents never improved. They didn’t like the idea of my bride and I living in their compound where I had built a temporary house and so I moved out and rented a house in Kagumo in Embu. My elder sister owned a posho mill in the town and employed me to manage it.

My parents called a family meeting where they accused me of deserting the family. Dad said they had disowned me and forced me to sign a letter to that effect. Instead of dwelling on the issue, I concentrated on my job and saved every cent I could and together with my musician wife recorded our first music CD – The desert of tribulations. It was about the challenges I was facing in life.

It was an instant hit and sold several copies. With the proceeds from the CD sales, we bought modern music equipment. We also started a green grocery that my wife managed. In addition to managing my sister’s posho mill, I put my writing skills into use and published a motivational newsletter – Mt. Kenya Vision. It had a wide circulation in the region. Inspired by this success, I teamed up with my sister and another friend to publish a magazine called Vision that circulated in Mt Kenya region. It became very popular.

Things were going on great for me. I won a marketing tender for the promotion and distribution of herbal, health and beauty products within Mt. Kenya region for a company called Chemplus. I registered a marketing company, Splashers, and employed a sales team to distribute the products in the surrounding towns.

Back home my parents had problems with my brothers and they decided to give each one of their children a share of their land. I put up a permanent house in the piece of land allocated to me. Soon after, my wife and I started having domestic problems because my in-laws, who also had businesses in the town, often asked her to manage their businesses at the expense of our green grocery. I tried to put a stop to it by asking her to return to our Embu home and manage our tea farm while I ran the posho mill but she declined. With none of us ready to cede ground, we separated for three months before she came back.

Marital problems increase…

With the help of a fellow female musician, I recorded my second CD titled Shinda in Nairobi in 2006. It became imperative for me to temporarily relocate to Nairobi to help promote the CD together with the musician. Local FM stations played the song and the sales rose expeditiously. My wife had taken over the management of the posho mill when I got too busy promoting my CD.

Just when everything seemed to be going very well for us, rumours arose that I was cheating on my wife with the musician. Unable to hear me out, my wife ran away with our daughter and our marriage came to an end in December 2006. I returned home to run the posho mill and also continue with the distribution of the beauty products.

In 2009, my wife’s lawyer filed a case in court to demand that I provide maintenance for our daughter and a son she had got out of wedlock. I engaged a lawyer to prepare my defense and represent me. The case was heard and a judgment date scheduled but was abruptly deferred to an unspecified date. My lawyer promised to make a follow up. I kept going into his office to check on the progress of the case and fed up by my persistence he asked me not to bother him any more.

Battle in the courts…

Unfortunately, neither my lawyer nor I were in court when the judgment was read out on July 28, 2009. I was slapped with a contempt of court three months later for failing to pay maintenance of over Ksh 100,000, which the court had awarded to my wife with instructions for it to be paid within 14 days. When I confronted my lawyer for failing me, he became hostile and cautioned me that I risked arrest if I failed to pay the money. Meanwhile, my attempts to engage other lawyers to file an appeal failed when they maintained it was a complicated case and didn’t want to take it up. The good advice was to pay up or risk being put in jail.

Time was running out and I opted to get out of town for sometime, as I didn’t have enough money to comply with the court order. By then I had remarried Veronica Muthoni. My wife understood and supported me when I told her I had to leave home for a while to escape prison. Nanyuki town became my hideout and I put up a small sales team to continue marketing the beauty products in the surrounding towns. My wife occasionally visited me and informed me that police often visited our home looking for me.

A lawyer advised me to return to Embu and assisted me to get the court cancel the existing warrant of arrest. That temporarily set me free in May 2010, and my life returned to normalcy. However, several months later, my estranged wife’s lawyer secured another court order demanding that I clear all the arrears within 14 days or risk a six-month jail term and my property attached.

Desperate, I approached the local area member of parliament who promised to assist me. Unfortunately, the 14 days notice lapsed while the MP was out of the country and I decided to represent myself in court armed with the new constitution. The court granted my request to hear my case anew.

Thankfully through the help of a competent lawyer, the monthly maintenance allowance for the children was reduced to manageable levels. Unhappy with the judgment, my estranged wife declined to claim the allowance.

When it rains, it pours…

My wife, Veronica, had become the pillar on which my life leaned on. However, the relationship between her and my parents wasn’t the best as she wasn’t very social and rarely interacted with my parents. They assumed I had instructed her not to interact with them. They put me on spot one day over this and even barred both of us from visiting their house.

In the midst of these valleys of difficulties, some sunshine still prevailed since my distribution business did very well and I made reasonable profits. The bad blood with my parents aggravated further when my dad had me arrested and locked up on allegations of physically assaulting him over a piece of land.  He later withdrew the charges on condition that I moved out of the family compound.

My parents seemed to have a problem with the many business agents who visited my home to pick up their beauty products. Because they appeared affluent, my parents branded them devil worshipers. I wasn’t aware of their misgivings until I noticed that my siblings, close relatives and even my wife’s friends had stopped visiting our home.

I learnt later from one of my sisters, that my parents had warned them to keep off my home lest we sacrificed them. I didn’t understand why my parents always condemned me as the black sheep amongst my nine siblings. My wife and I felt rejected, especially when she suffered a sudden attack of high blood pressure in early 2013 and was hospitalised for a week yet none of my family members paid her a visit.

Starting afresh…

On March 16, 2013, my dad asked me to move out of his compound. Tired of the family wrangles, my wife and I resolved to move to Nairobi, far away from home to start our lives afresh. It didn’t matter that we had to give up a lot including our lucrative distribution business. I first sought solace at my sister’s house in Nairobi but was rejected.

I rented a simple house at Githurai Kimbo on Thika superhighway, where my wife and I settled. We begun operating a small beauty and health products stall and are slowly picking the pieces. I plan to take responsibility for my young family so that they don’t go through what I’ve gone through. I hope one day my family and I will reconcile.

 Published in August 2013